13.0300 textual studies: perfectability, Hacker's Ball

Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Sun, 28 Nov 1999 15:11:26 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 13, No. 300.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

[1] From: Fotis Jannidis <Fotis.Jannidis@lrz.uni- (64)
Subject: Re: 13.0281 perfectability of texts

[2] From: Mark Olsen <mark@barkov.uchicago.edu> (77)
Subject: Re: 13.0295 Hacker's Ball?

Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 19:58:24 +0000
From: Fotis Jannidis <Fotis.Jannidis@lrz.uni-muenchen.de>
Subject: Re: 13.0281 perfectability of texts

> From: Jean-Claude Guédon <guedon@LITTCO.UMontreal.CA>

> It deepens and amplifies an idea I have been
> pushing about digitization processes and the need to distinguish
> between perfection and usability.

> From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
> Like Jean-Claude I am fascinated by the idea of the perfectability of texts
> through early publication, even (in the case of those we write) their
> communal evolution. The former is illustrated by the Suda On Line project
> <http://www.stoa.org/sol/>, the latter by my own practice of publishing
> essays and then changing them as people react to the contents.

Maybe a look at self-descriptions of the open source movement like Eric S.
Raymond "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" [1] or Tim O'Reilly's "Ten Myths
about Open Source Software" [2] can help to find criteria what kind of
text produced by scholars are better suited for an open source approach. A
key to the understanding of this movement seems to be that projects are
started by someone (or a group) who has a problem to solve. They start to
develop a solution and make their new solution public, because going
public and winning users is an integral part of the solution. The users of
the new tool can easily become contributors to the development process
themselves, and they are motivated by the wish to adapt the tool to their
own problems.

Probably some kind of texts we produce are better suitet for such an open
source approach: electronic editions of important texts, hypertext
tutorials or bibliographies per example. These tools of our trade are used
by others - often very long after the original author stopped working on
them. Quite often we are updating parts of these materials anyway, even if
we wouldn't want to be responsible for the whole text.

(There is a handbook of German text editions which was published 20 years
ago. I don't want to write a new edition of it but I do so for some texts
anyway and I would like to have access to an hypertext edition of it
growing by the efforts of some interested researchers.)

Monographies, essays etc. are probably not so suitable to this kind of
approach, because others are not really motivated to contribute.

So it would be an important step to make the tools of the open source movement
accessible to scholars. CVS, the versioning software in use in many o.s.
projects, isn't so easy to handle even on the client side with an
anonymous access although there are now graphical user interfaces for mac
and win. Quite useful are probably the ways o.s. projects developed to
reach decisions. The difference between stable versions which can be used
by the public without constraints and developer versions could also be
used to combine the possibilities of quick internet publishing with the
wish for stabilized products.


[1] http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue3_3/raymond/index.html
[2] http://opensource.oreilly.com/news/myths_1199.html

Date: Sun, 28 Nov 1999 19:59:17 +0000
From: Mark Olsen <mark@barkov.uchicago.edu>
Subject: Re: 13.0295 Hacker's Ball?

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>> > At the end of the ACH/ALLC 1999 meeting Olsen was trying to organize a
>> > "Hacker's Ball" to come up with a software initiative that would produce
>> > useful tools and help humanities computing scholars figure out how to do
>> > open source programming. The last I heard, there was some interest in
>> > developing UNICODE utilities (e.g. a program that sorts strings). Is
>> > anyone still interested in this?

Gee, and I thought I left no written trail. ;-) I had plenty of
expressions of great interest at ACH in Virginia to the notion of an
invitational, small and informal (lots of whisky) two day meeting of
humanities computing hackers to actually think about joint development efforts,
possibly aimed at Unicode tools as a start, but considering other
options. Tentatively planned for late, last summer at Chicago, in order
to jump on the enthusiasm coming out of the ACH meeting, it foundered
on the all too common rocks of over-committment of some key individuals
and an inability to schedule a suitable time before school resumed.
So, the notion was backburnered.

I did not make any formal announcement since I did not know if
there would be interest or if it could be organized quickly.
Like Olivier North, a written record has surfaced to flush me out! :-)

I will take this opportunity, to suggest that open source, collaborative
development among the individuals working on software in humanities computing
is probably the only way we will even see the development of a new generation
of sophisticated tools. Tools that might leverage the expressive power of TEI
and it's future XML incarnation [wow, it must be nearing Christmas, 'cause
even Olsen's bein' nice about TEI ;-)], lower level tools such as
Unicode smart utilities in order to foster real multi-lingual computing,
or full text indexing, retrieval, and display utilities. Cooperative
development could start with an existing, freely accessible system
or by targetting a set of lower level problems and working on UNIX/Linux
style utilities that would serve as building blocks for real systems.

The notion of the "hackers ball" was to bring together the relatively small
number of developers in the humanities to discuss, in a more focussed
manner than is possible at our annual conferences, issues of possible
open source, collaborative development. At the time, I suggested that
we use Tom Horton's ELTA Project:


as the vehicle for this effort. As a developer in humanities computing,
I am quite convinced that few of the even largest and best-funded projects,
such as ARTFL, can continue to work independently. The Linux-style open
source approach has proven itself to be remarkably effective and should be
adopted by humanities computing developers as a way to address the demand
for software that can treat increasingly complex data on all fronts.

I would also be more than willing resurrect this notion and help plan
for it. Without Tom's knowledge -- sorry, mon! -- I propose that
we move this discussion offline to Tom's ELTA site. I have only one
question: what is the dress code to a "Hackers Ball". ;-)

Best regards,


Mark Olsen
Assistant Director
ARTFL Project
University of Chicago
(773) 702-8687
WWW: http://humanities.uchicago.edu/ARTFL/ARTFL.html

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections
must first be overcome. --- Samuel Johnson

>> [2] From: Stefan Sinclair <4ss42@qsilver.queensu.ca> (14)
>> >> Date: Sat, 27 Nov 1999 08:12:16 +0000
>> I've been reading through piles of accumulated unread mail and arrived on
>> this thread. Was there any response?
>> I tried to kickstart things awhile ago with my humanities computing
>> repository, but as a visit there will tell you, it's a fairly lonely place.
>> http://qsilver.queensu.ca/QI/HCR/
>> > At the end of the ACH/ALLC 1999 meeting Olsen was trying to organize a
>> > "Hacker's Ball" to come up with a software initiative that would produce
>> > useful tools and help humanities computing scholars figure out how to do
>> > open source programming. The last I heard, there was some interest in
>> > developing UNICODE utilities (e.g. a program that sorts strings). Is
>> > anyone still interested in this?
>> Stéfan Sinclair, Queen's University (Canada)

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